Welcome back! It’s Jordan, GateCrashers Task Force Xpert here. Last time we took a detour into John Ostrander’s Firestorm and that series crossover with the Squad. Today we’re talking about another crossover but albeit a very different one. This is Millenium, a 1987 weekly crossover event. The story of the event continued through weekly issues over DC’s entire lineup. There was an 8 issue event in the main book by Steve Englehart. Each week one of those issues would be released and all of the tie-ins would bounce off of it, leaving the rest up to the individual creators.
The story concerned the Manhunters as they were revealed to be secretly hiding in plain sight, disguised as supporting characters. It’s a sort of proto Secret Invasion, but decades before. It’s decent, but it’s hardly the greatest of DC’s crossovers. It’s an all-encompassing story that consumed all of DC’s books over 8 weeks, as the events of an issue of the main book would spring out into the tie-in issues. John Ostrander built off of the events of Millenium #4, with Suicide Squad #9. The Squad appears in that issue of Millennium, but Ostrander didn’t write it, so I won’t be talking about it here. If you want the bigger picture, feel free to read that event, but this story functions well enough on its own merits. Mostly.
So our story starts right in the middle of the action. The Squad is gathered outside a Manhunter temple in Louisiana, which they have orders to destroy with the help of a nifty explosive go-kart. The set-up is simple, go in and destroy the Manhunters and all their stuff. This issue’s Squad consists of the regulars you’d expect. It’s got Boomerang, Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, and Rick Flag. But also tagging along for this mission is Slipknot, who joined in the aforementioned Firestorm crossover, The Privateer introduced in the last issue of Suicide Squad, as well as Karin Grace, a member of the original Suicide Squad along with Flag. It’s odd that this issue just kicks off with Karin in the field with no real explanation as to why. She hasn’t been doing fieldwork with the Squad at all by this point. But hey, whatever, I can roll with it. This issue is also our first with Bronze Tiger as a leader since Flag’s been deemed psychologically unfit to lead at this point. However, I love how Ostrander sprinkles in these moments of Tiger confiding in Flag. He’s coming to grips with this new position, and Flag gives him some insight and encourages him. Most books would just have a new leader leap into the role quickly, but Ben has to take his time, and Flag, in a way, is still very much in charge.
Anyway, Captain Atom shows up. Yeah, he just comes in out of nowhere, with the same orders as the Squad to blow up the Manhunters. I love the detail that he’s here because the different government departments want to be the ones to take the Manhunters down. It’s a great bit of mockery for the government over the top machismo. Atom talks with Flag and learns that the Squad’s vehicle is holding an experimental explosive called Xyzedium. Essentially Flag is leading the Squad into a mission he’s not expecting them to leave. Flag chooses to withhold that information from the Squad, however. I think this is particularly cold for an earlier Flag, who would stop at nothing to get his team out alive. He seems incredibly casual about the fact that his entire time is being sent to die. Part of it may be the stakes of an event like this, or part of it may be his own mental health and stress at the time. Either way, I think it’s a touch out of character.
While this is happening, we get a great little exchange between Slipknot and Boomerang. If you saw the 2016 movie, you’ll be familiar with this moment. Slipknot asks if the explosive bracelets are legit, and Boomerang seizes the opportunity. See, up to this point we haven’t seen them used at all, so Boomerang wants to test them out. He tells Slipknot they’re fake, and Slipknot decides to escape moments later when the Squad gets into a fight with Manhunters. His arm gets blown off, and Boomerang has his answer. It’s such a great moment and a defining one for this book and for Boomerang. I should also note that there’s a great bit where Slipknot throws his rope around a Manhunters’s neck to choke it out, only to realize that he’s totally useless against a robot. This book is funny, people. People often talk like this was deadly serious, but it was often quite goofy. Ostrander has a twisted sense of humour, and I love it. Slipknot is a useless fool, but I love him for it.
During all this action, Firestorm appears for two panels, and Captain Atom goes off and fights him, setting up the next issue of Captain Atom. Yeah, there’s a lot of this in this issue. I interviewed Ostrander last week, and he said that this crossover, in particular, was difficult. Writers didn’t have a solid grasp on what the event was about or what was happening, so characters just kinda enter and then leave without any rhyme or reason. It leaves the issue feeling very cluttered and distracted. Unfortunately, this leaks into the core conflict of this issue.
The battle with the manhunters leaves Ben injured, Boomer and Lawton split from the group, Slipknot left for dead, and Karin kidnapped. This leaves just Flag and the Privateer to continue with the mission. They run into Karin, who’s just hanging on the side of a ledge, asking for help. Flag senses something is up but helps anyway, only for Karin to pull a gun on him. Turns out that Karin fell in love with Mark Shaw, the Privateer. I guess that explains their dynamic in the last issue, but it’s a really abrupt turn in this issue’s story.
Turns out that Shaw brought Karin over to the side of the Manhunters. But wait? Wasn’t Shaw against the manhunters now? Yeah, well, Privateer is just as confused as you since he claims to not even remember what she’s talking about. So they get interrupted by a manhunter who comes outta nowhere claiming to be the real Shaw and that the other one was just an android.
This manhunter takes out both Flag and Privateer and instructs Karin to kill them both. Karin can’t follow through with it as she remembers her happy memories with Flag on the old Squad. Anyway, all the Manhunters start to fall to pieces and break apart, including this supposed Manhunter version of Shaw. Karin tells Shaw to get Flag out as she charges the explosive vehicle into the heart of the Manhunters base. The base explodes, Karin dies, and the Squad makes it out alive.
That’s a lot. So much happens in this issue that it’s insane. Ostrander has been really great so far at pacing out information and plot revelations at a really efficient and enjoyable rate. Here, however, there are about three different twists within a few pages. It’s so fast, and none of it manages to have any impact. Karin betrays Flag, but then she dies a heroic death a few pages later. None of it really matters. The sad thing is that this could have been a great story. Other than Flag, Karin is the last (presumed, at this point) surviving member of the original Squad. So having her go out could have been prime for a great story. It could have been a great way to pass the torch to this new Squad and play up the tragedy of the old Squad. A Squad destined to die, left behind in favour of these villains. I don’t blame Ostrander, Yale, McDonnell, Greenberger, or really anyone for this. It just carries the symptoms of all big event comics. You may be wondering why I didn’t address how the Manhunters all started to fall apart. Well, that’s because this issue never tells you how or why. It just tells you to read the next issue of The Spectre to find out. This really isn’t how event tie-ins should work. A tie-in, I think, is best when it tells a story related to the event but not tied into everything else. They should give some extra context, but tell a story on its own merits. Here it feels like Ostrander is being forced to shove a story into about three other different stories. It’s a fun enough issue, but nothing sticks or feels focused and directed.
McDonnell does great work, as always, with dynamic poses and panel layouts, but it’s far from his best work on the series. The best stuff comes from Boomerang and Deadshot. They have a few great moments accusing each other of being gimmicky. It’s really fun and a nice breather from the rest of this very hectic issue. It’s also in this story where we get our introduction to The Duchess. She’s a character that will soon join the Squad, and she appears in front of Slipknot as he pleads for his life. It’s such a brief, inconsequential moment, which is odd considering how important her character will become.
Regardless this is a story that works better in retrospect but not on its own. The death of Karin will come to affect Flag in some really key ways. It’s just a shame that the story of her death couldn’t be given the room it needed. It is an Ostrander Squad book, so it does have some great little character moments, but it’s definitely one of the weaker issues of this run. But don’t worry. Next week Belle Reve is getting a rather interesting visitor, a certain someone from Gotham City. Until next time.